YA veteran Garcia (The Lovely Reckless, 2016, etc.) gets hearts racing with a well-paced novel of romance and the sweet science.
Peyton is a biracial (Cuban-American and white) high school senior in Washington, D.C., who was just offered a spot to play soccer for her top-choice university program when an injury turns all her plans on their heads. This was no accident on the pitch, though: Peyton was pushed down a flight of stairs by her abusive mixed martial arts–fighting ex, landing on her knee. In the aftermath, in which her ex denies any wrongdoing and she receives anonymous threats, Peyton escapes by moving in with a beloved uncle and his twin sons in rural Tennessee. Though her hope is to focus on school and healing, fate has other plans as another up-and-coming kickboxing and MMA fighter, Owen, becomes an inescapable presence in her life. Peyton is wary of fighters and even more dubious about her own instincts, struggling with anxiety and post-traumatic stress related to her father’s death and her own assault. Though some readers may find the frequent alpha-male posturing thrilling and romantic, it becomes tedious after the third testosterone-fueled fight takes place only halfway through the book. If the reader can stick out the brooding and violence, the conclusion is satisfying. Owen is white and there is diversity among the secondary characters.
A tense buildup with a suitably happy ending. (Sports romance. 15-18)